"It's too expensive." "It takes too much training or skilled labour." "It's more complex than I need." These three refrains are often cited as reasons to not to invest in machines capable of 5-axis milling, but are they valid concerns? Let's take a closer look at these common myths and get some insights from current Hermle owners about how 5-axis machines are making a positive impact on their businesses.
It’s true that 5-axis CNC machines typically have higher initial purchase costs than some less sophisticated 3-axis machines. But consider the true end-to-end cost of ownership over the lifetime of the machine, as well as the bigger financial picture.
One reason five-axis machines cost more is because they are built solidly to handle the demands of high-precision work. Ultra-precise rotary tables and rigid spindle heads are required to achieve these results, which comes at higher costs, but also results in higher machine reliability, longer service intervals, less down time, longer tool life, and more consistent, repeatable results. If your 3-axis machine requires additional add-ons to run your jobs, wears out tooling at a faster rate, or is often out of service, is it really saving you money?
In addition to the purchase and operating costs, operators should also consider the impact that investing in a 5-axis machine capable of completing more sophisticated higher-margin jobs can have on the bottom line. The speed, precision and ability to compete for a wider range of more profitable jobs and produce higher quality components makes a 5-axis machine a long-term investment into a company’s future success.
It’s no secret that the labour market is tight and one of the biggest challenges facing large and small manufacturers these days is hiring, training and retaining highly skilled labour. With the increasing use of automated solutions and user-friendly controls, concerns about the learning curve required to run a 5-axis machine may be out-dated. In fact, it’s likely that running a machine with one of Hermle’s industry leading automation solutions may actually reduce your labour and training costs.
"A challenge we see in tool making, or just in general, is that we have to advance what technology can do for us as opposed to just relying on people to do it, because there is a labour shortage. It’s in every industry. To help compensate for that and to expand our business, we're really happy with our Hermle machines," said John Mullen, President of North Hartland Tool in North Hartland, Vermont.
In addition to reducing the demands for skilled labour, training current employees to set up and program a 5-axis machine is no longer as daunting as it may have been in the past thanks to the latest generation of controls and software offered either natively by Hermle or from third-party companies such as Heidenhain’s new TNC-7 that are among the simplest and most intuitive in the industry.
Five-axis machines are capable of tackling the most challenging machining operations with the highest degree of accuracy and precision, but not every job rises to that level of sophistication. Is a 5-axis machine "overkill" for a shop that mainly relies on the capabilities of traditional 3-axis machines?
With advances in programming software and automated controls, in most cases, a modern 5-axis machine is no more difficult to operate than current 3-axis machines. Operator skills are directly transferable, and many current operating systems incorporate extensive customization features that allow the controls to be tailored closely to the operator’s needs and skill level. These controls also reduce the amount of training required to operate the machines.
The Big picture
Stepping up to 5-axis machining is a big commitment for many machine shops, but it's a decision that can also pay big dividends in return. Don't let misconceptions or outdated information get in the way of making the right decision for the future of your business.
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